On the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, members of the White House bowling league assembled at the Old Executive Office Building for their regular weekly match. They were turned away, never to return.
Four years after being told they were a security risk, the league's florists, ushers, carpenters, Secret Service agents and retired government staffers bowl at Fort Myer, across the Potomac.
Members of the oldest accredited bowling league in the nation's capital have been allowed back to their historic two-lane basement hideaway only once -- to clean out their trophies and other memorabilia.
The storied maple and pine lanes used by presidents for 50 years have become run down, damaged by water and construction debris.
The White House declined to allow a reporter to see the lanes, which are occupied by contractors involved in the building's renovation.
The league president, James Mattingly, questioned the Sept. 11 security rationale given for the league's eviction. Nearly every bowler had a security clearance, and those who didn't, like all White House visitors, had a background check before being cleared into the complex. "They just wanted us to go away," said Mattingly, a Treasury Department staffer and former Secret Service official.
A gift to the nation from anonymous presidential pals back home in Kansas City, Mo., the lanes were inaugurated in 1947 by Harry S. Truman. Three years later, the league was formed. In 1955, the lanes moved from the West Wing basement to the Old Executive Office Building, now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, to make room for a mimeograph room.
Lady Bird Johnson and Muriel Humphrey, wife of Hubert H. Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson's vice president, bowled together every week. Mrs. Johnson told one old-timer she liked to bowl because it didn't muss her hair.
Richard M. Nixon was such an avid bowler he paid the $400 annual lease fee for the automatic pinsetting machines out of his own pocket. During the Watergate furor, the 37th president would steal away to the basement, bowling alone while Joe Taylor, who ran the mailroom, kept score.
Secret Service officials confirmed that for a few months after Sept. 11 attacks the league was denied access but said security is no longer an issue.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said after the first phase of the EEOB's renovation is completed next August, "this matter will be revisited."
League secretary Dick Conn said the bowlers are fatalistic about their prospects. "It would be nice to go back one day," he said, "but I wouldn't bet on it."
-- New York Daily News